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by Joseph Benson
THE FIFTH BOOK OF MOSES, CALLED
THIS last book of Moses, consisting, in a great measure, of a recapitulation of former laws, is therefore called by the Greek interpreters δευτερονομιον , DEUTERONOMY, (from δευτερος νομος ,) a second law, or a second edition of the law, because it is a repetition of many of the laws, as well as of much of the history contained in the three foregoing books. They to whom the first law was given were all dead, and a new generation was sprung up, to whom God would have his laws repeated by Moses himself, that they might make a deeper impression upon them. However, the laws contained here are not to be considered as bare repetitions. They are attended with several additions, explications, and enlargements; and especially are enforced by the strongest and most pathetic motives to obedience. Moses here, with more than human energy, opens to the Israelites the true spirit and design of all these laws; shows that true peace and happiness would most certainly arise from observing them; and, on the contrary, that disquiet and misery would as certainly be the consequence of departing from them to follow their own imaginations. In the strongest and most magnificent terms he sets forth the glorious privilege and happiness of being under such a divine conduct as Israel was under; he seems to rise above himself in speaking of it; and to manifest that he wants words sufficiently expressive to declare what he feels on this subject. He is particularly concerned to make the people conceive of GOD as a pure, invisible Spirit, of whom there neither is nor can be any manner of likeness. He labours to raise their thoughts of the great JEHOVAH far above all that human error had conceived among the nations, above all the objects of sense and sight, whether on the earth, in the waters, or in the heavens, those glorious bodies, the sun, the moon, the stars, even all the host of heaven, then the great objects of worship among mankind, being only his creatures and servants to execute his commands, and do his pleasure.
The book begins with a brief rehearsal of the most remarkable events that had befallen them since they came from mount Sinai. In the fourth chapter begins a pathetic exhortation to obedience: from the twelfth to the twenty- seventh are repeated many particular laws, enforced in the twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth, with promises and threatenings, which are formed into a covenant in the twenty-ninth and thirtieth chapters. Care is taken, chap. 31., to perpetuate the remembrance of these things among them, particularly by a song, chap. 32., concluded with a blessing, chap. 33.
Through the whole of this book we may discern Moses to speak as a person under the immediate influence of a divine inspiration, and toward the conclusion of it as evidently guided by a prophetic spirit, and having his mind enlightened to discern the state and condition of the Israelites in ages to come. What he utters on this occasion is with all the majesty and confidence of one who had a divine commission, and knew with certainty that what he foretold, however remote the time, would surely come to pass: and, accordingly, the greater part of these predictions we see accomplished in the world at this present time. Upon the whole, such is this book of Deuteronomy, so different from the writings of every other lawgiver, so evidently treating the subjects of it with more than human understanding, and delivering them with more than human majesty, that whoever comes to the reading of it with an unprejudiced mind will feel, while he is reading, that it is indeed divine.
the Fifth Week after Easter